We are often faced with a thorny predicament when asked to pit fact against faith. Such a delicate endeavor is the one posed in the question above. Reliance or submittal of evidence is most often associated with the pursuit of proof. Therefore, evidence becomes a means of achieving truth through empirical observations and objective facts. Conversely, beliefs are commonly linked to feeling and faith. While evidence is needed to support most all objective conclusions, there are many beliefs that exist in the absence of evidence. However, when spanning across the complete spectrum of knowledge, the levels of objectivity required in each area often fluctuate such that great levels of evidence are regularly required before an individual can come to believe. Each Area of Knowledge presents its own reconciliations to this debate. For instance, certain areas claim that there must always be strong evidence to support a belief or that new evidence can change pre-existing beliefs. Similar variations exist when exploring the different Ways of Knowing. Consequently, through the examination of the Areas of Knowledge and the Ways of Knowing one can intelligently formulate a resolution to this problematic dispute.
The various Areas of Knowledge comprise a cornucopia of looking glasses with which one can interpret information. Natural Science, for instance, gives heed to natural law and natural origin, with observation being the primary means of gathering information. Encompassing subjects like Biology and Earth Science, this time-honored field collects its evidence through intense surveillance of nature. This methodology differentiates the Natural Sciences from other more historical (or experimental) sciences. In fact, Heinrich Rickert once wrote:
"Regardless of how the concept of historical sciences is more narrowly defined in order to approximate more closely what is usually understood by this term, there are no conditions under which a natural scientific or generalizing representation of history is possible. Thus concept formation in natural science and concept formation in history must always remain in radical logical opposition." (Rickert, 1986, p. 35).
As illustrated above, the evidence drawn solely from historical findings can hardly ever used as means of achieving proof in natural science. Therefore, when looking through the lens of Natural Science, beliefs are created through the interpretation of the evidence provided naturally.
Human Sciences, on the other hand, focus on the analysis of the lived experience. This field becomes increasingly enticing in its attempt to draw from both objective sensory experience and subjective psychological occurrences. The former aspect of this field relates to Natural Science in the sense that many of our sensory experiences occur in or contra to nature. However, the latter characteristic of this study distinguishes it from its organic counterpart. For example, the entire compilation of our internal and external lived experiences ultimately exhibits a substantial level of incommensurability with all of our sensory experiences in nature (Dilthey, 1989). Accordingly, with the addition of the subjective psychological perspective, the amount of evidence necessary for a person to secure a belief becomes much more individualized. However, the claim that new evidence can change one's beliefs holds more water in this arena. As Dr. Wilhem Dilthey exquisitely states in his Introduction to the Human Sciences, "…through the long and developmental journey of the lived experience, one continuously comes across new data capable of changing the moral fiber that constitutes the belief system" (Dilthey, 1989, p. 68). When studying the ever-changing human experience, it is difficult to contend any claim involving the transformation or development of one's beliefs.
In the area of History, elucidation of empirical data garnered from previous experience and experimentation is the fundamental means of attaining knowledge (McCullough, 2005). This field coincides with Human Science in that historical information is a useful tool in shaping the course of human experience. However, using the sturdy foundation of past precedents, it is more difficult for new knowledge to overcome in this arena. The formation of a concept in the historical sciences (with their obvious relation to time) cannot be truly solidified unless its place on the timeline is also solidified, and once such a concept is solidified it becomes a building block for future improvements, decisions and endeavors (Rickert, 1986). Therefore, historical evidence is a powerful aid in the shaping or discarding of beliefs.
The Arts is an area of knowledge having little to do with scientific and traditionally objective data. This discipline more often caters to the subjective, psychological and moral forums of life. The aim of many art forms is the provision of sensory pleasure to the audience (Kurtz, 2000). Interpretation is highly personalized, with little empirical evidence shaping one's interpretation. Due to this lack of objective evidence, this is perhaps the only Area of Knowledge that supports the claim that beliefs can stand alone with no evidence.
Ethics are another area that is commonly associated with the subjective. While many ethical questions are relatively clear-cut, they are founded in moral obligation. The formation of a moral system occurs throughout human development (Timm, 2000). Consequently, while many professional ethics are almost akin to plain rules, the basis of such conventions lies in the subjectivity of morality (Timm, 2000). Ethical dilemmas more often than not revolve around the struggle between "right" and "wrong." The definitions of such concepts are determined by one's lived experience (which includes substantial amounts of objective data intake). For instance, when one sees someone punished for a bad act, one then knows through this empirical observation that this act is wrong. However, there are other ethical questions that transcend the stringency of right vs. wrong (Timm, 2000). Euthanasia for the terminally ill is one such example. Ultimately, Ethics are yet another Area of Knowledge which blends empirical evidence with one's own individual predilections.
The field of Mathematics is one of strictness and objectivity. Through the use of a common arithmetical framework, problems are resolved. Such problems usually have only one answer, thus there is little room for individual interpretation in the mathematical world. Formulas, models and deduction are the primary tools used to ascertain proof. As one can infer, strong evidence is almost always needed to support a belief in this particular Area of Knowledge.
When delving into the different Ways of Knowing it becomes apparent that the means of achieving knowledge are just as diverse as the knowledge itself. Emotion, for instance, is extremely difficult to precisely quantify, although it can cause individuals to behave in extremely radical ways. The enigmatic qualities normally associated with Emotion most likely arise from its relationship to feelings. In fact, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The most common theory of emotions is that they are simply a class of feelings differentiated for sensation and proprioceptions by their experienced quality" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). Thus this theme certainly provokes the claim that beliefs can stand alone in the absence of any tangible evidence.
Another method for the attainment of knowledge is Reason. This is drastically different from Emotion, although this approach does recognize and acknowledge emotions. However, unlike Emotion, "Reason is organized. It is systematic and purposeful. It concentrates on fundamentals, and makes pertinent associations. It must use logic, deduction, and induction." (Landauer & Rowlands, 2001). Consequently, in virtually all cases great levels of evidence are necessary to instill beliefs with this modus operandi.
Other techniques that can be implemented in the pursuit of knowledge include Language and Sense Perception. These Ways of Knowing were created to convey and acquire knowledge and to subsequently increase its lifespan. Certainly linguistic ability can be a valuable tool in accumulating a wealth of knowledge. Correspondingly, Plato maintained that sensory perception does not necessarily preclude knowledge, although it can be a helpful tool in the acquisition of knowledge (Cooper, 1970). Nevertheless, the true solidification of a belief is most commonly achieved through the coupling of Language or Sense Perception…